You know, Georgia really is a great place to fish for trout. The fisheries folks at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources work hard to make sure that anglers have good days on the water, and one way they do so is through a comprehensive trout stocking program designed to help as many people as possible experience the thrill of catching trout from a cold, clear mountain stream.
The result is a public trout fishery that’s second to none. Sometimes we take it for granted, but it really is an incredible thing.
To get a sense of the magnitude of trout stocking in Georgia, take a look at georgiawildlife.com/trout. There, you’ll find an overview of the state’s stocking program with a list of stocked streams as well as insights into how frequently each one is stocked. If you poke around there a bit, you’ll find that the site also provides info on which streams were stocked during the previous week – helpful info when planning a fall fishing outing for you and your family.
Spending some time on that site a couple of weeks ago, I learned that the Chattahoochee River up in White County, in the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area, is stocked weekly from March and through Labor Day. Of the one million or so trout stocked in Georgia each year, about 24,000 end up in that part of the river or its major tributaries, with most going into the heavily fished water between the lower boundary of the WMA and the WMA check station some distance upstream.
But how and where are those fish actually stocked? Inquiring minds want to know, and last week I had a chance to find out firsthand as I rode along with Georgia DNR’s trout stocking coordinator John Lee Thompson on the weekly run to stock that part of the river near Helen.
We met at the Chattahoochee United Methodist Church parking lot. John Lee was driving one of the specially outfitted stocking trucks, hauling a truckfull of trout from the Lake Burton Hatchery on Moccasin Creek in Rabun County.
“Where will these fish go?” I asked.
“We’ll have to see,” he replied. “It’s all about water temperature.”
Finding the right water temperature is kind of like hitting a moving target, it seems, and I quickly realize that step one was to figure out just where that “right” temperature might be.
We stopped at several spots so John Lee could check the river. At each one, he pulled the truck to the side of the road and then retrieved a reel-like device with a gray digital readout – a stream thermometer – from the truck’s center console. Then he hopped down from the truck and walked to the river, where he unrolled the sensing element and then gently swung it out into the flow. A second later it showed the water temperature.
“Right here it’s too warm for trout,” he said at our first stop. “We’ll have to look farther upstream.”
So we worked our way on up the river, following Poplar Stump Road upstream and checking as we went, until he found what he was looking for.
“That’s better,” John Lee said as the flickering digits of the thermometer settled on a reading. “We’ll put some in here.”
He climbed up onto the truck, opened one of the tanks, and with a long-handled net flipped several dozen fish into the river. They landed with a splash. When the ripples settled down I could see them, already settling into the crystal-clear pool and the sparkling run below.
And then, since I’m a hands-on kind of writer, I asked John Lee if I could give the stocking thing a try myself.
“Sure!” he said, showing me how to flip the net to launch the fish into the water. Then he scooped up some fish from the tank and handed the laden net to me. I gave the net a flip, just like he had instructed me to, and to my faint surprise the fish actually arched through the air and landed more or less where I wanted them to.
Who knows? If you catch a trout on the upper Chattahoochee in the Wildlife Management Area next week, you just might have me to thank for it.
We drove on, continuing to stock fish as we went, and a while later we passed a pool that we stocked earlier in the day. There was no one there before, but now there were three young people and two dads fishing there. All had big grins on their faces. We spoke to them (my notes tell me it was the Cagles and the Hendrixes, with an “x”) and admired the kids’ stringers of trout. Those guys were having a blast!
It occurs to me, then, that even though John Lee works in fisheries, he’s really in the business of creating smiles – and memories.
While John Lee tossed in a few more fish, I asked the dads if I could take a picture of the kids. The dads said “sure.”
“You’re going to be stars!” one of them said as the kids lifted their stringers for all to see. I took several shots just to be sure. Then I set the camera back in the truck and turned to wish them good luck, but the kids were already back to fishing.
We drove on, stopping and stocking and then stopping and stocking some more. Finally, well down the road, John Lee said, “This should be the last stop.”
He climbed up onto the truck one more time, scooped up the last of the fish, and sent them flying into the river. Two scoops, three – and then was finished.
“That’s it,” he said. “We’re done.”
And so we were.
But for those who’ll fish here tomorrow, the fun’s is yet to begin!